With the playoffs just around the corner, the Anaheim Ducks still don’t have a clue who they’ll face in the first round. Here’s a look at all four potential matchups and how the Ducks would fare in each series:
1. Winnipeg Jets
The stars have been aligning all season for an Anaheim-Winnipeg first round series, as the upstarts Jets have consistently held down the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. A team four lines deep with a mobile defense corps, the Jets will not be an easy out for whomever they face in the first round.
Add the fact that this would be the Jets’ first playoff appearance since their last incarnation, and you have the makings of the loudest playoff crowd…ever. I discussed this matchup on the excellent Fantasy Sports Warehouse show, so be sure to tune in there for more analysis.
Yes, the Jets are a mobile team that will have a legitimate home-ice advantage, but keep in mind that Anaheim has been one of the five best teams in the entire league since the trade deadline. With their star power and talent at every position, the Ducks are simply a better team than the Jets. Winnipe’s friskiness and wild home crowd should allow them to steal a game or two.
Verdict: Ducks in 6
2. Minnesota Wild
The Wild have been one of the feel good stories in the National Hockey League this season. Counted out by many, the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk launched one of the most historically impressive runs by any goaltender. A season that had been marked by a profanity-laced Mike Yeo tirade turned into a comeback story of epic proportions.
Can their run be extended in a series against the Ducks though? Minnesota is another Western team that boasts an impressive array of offensive depth and mobility on the blueline. Anchored by the resurgent Dubnyk, they’re a team that could give anyone fits in a seven game series.
Their depth hasn’t translated into an elite possession game though, something that Anaheim has drastically improved since the trade deadline. Unless Dubnyk plays an absolutely perfect series, it’s difficult to imagine Minnesota matching the Ducks’ firepower.
Verdict: Ducks in 6
3. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings unquestionably present the most difficult challenge for the Ducks. Los Angeles’s brand of hockey is a war of attrition, a far cry from Anaheim’s run and gun style. The Kings bend you until you break with relentless puck pursuit and a barrage of shot attempts, a style tailor made for the playoffs.
For months, the notion of playing the Kings has hung over the Ducks like a dark cloud, but that cloud is steadily dissipating. With the improvement that the Ducks have shown and the mediocrity that the Kings have been mired in, there’s no reason to believe that Anaheim couldn’t handily beat their cross-freeway foes.
L.A’s tough style will make it an interesting series. They’ve logged a ton of miles in the past seasons though, and it will show as the series drags on. Anaheim’s speed will be too much for the Kings, capping off a hard-fought seven-game series.
Verdict: Ducks in 7
4. Calgary Flames
Wait, did I say the Wild are a feel good story? Well then, that must make the Flames a “feel outstanding” story. Seriously, did anyone think the Flames had a chance in hell at making the playoffs back in September? Calgary has bucked the tanking trend that has engulfed this regular season and has given their fans legitimate hope for the future.
Unfortunately for the Flames and their fans though, the clock on this Cinderella story would bang midnight once the puck dropped on this series. The Ducks have absolutely owned the Flames this season. Calgary might steal a game at home with a thunderous Canadian crowd, but the galactic talent disparity between both teams would make this an easy stepping stone for Bruce Boudreau and his men.
Verdict: Ducks in 5